When I was fifteen, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt my life would end at thirty. I didn’t have a death wish — at least not one any greater than your average teenager prone to fits of melodrama — but at that time in my life, the number thirty seemed so far away that I was certain that by the time I reached it, I would have done all the living I could possibly do and be ready to throw in the towel and go out on top. Trying to see past thirty was like trying to see the stars through the haze kicked up into the skies of big cities, the future obscured by a smog of uncertainty.

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

It’s funny how so often we are blind to our lives when looking forward, but everything seems so clear when we turn and look back, like we’re forever stuck on the wrong side of a two-way mirror, only seeing our reflection clearly. At fifteen I had no real idea what my life would be, though I certainly had definite plans. I would be a doctor, I would fall in love, I would get married, I would have kids (probably two), I would be successful, I would be happy. And I then I would reach thirty and I would be impossibly old.

The Chocolate Hills, Bohol, The Philippine Islands
The Chocolate Hills, Bohol, The Philippine Islands

It’s easy to dismiss most of the crazy notions I had when I was that girl, hardly more than a kid really, but here we are fifteen years later, and it would seem I’ve seen most of those teenaged plans come about and take on a life of their own. Of course, being older and wiser, I’m not surprised to see that most of them came about in ways I never could have envisioned back then: I am a doctor — of philosophy; I did fall in love and got married — to a man I wouldn’t know existed until nearly ten years later (and an American at that!); I don’t have kids, but I’ve got two dogs… What can I say — sometimes life works out better than you plan. Before I left on this round-the-world trip, I’d accomplished everything I had set out to do for myself, and while I’m working on redefining my definition of it, I would say that probably qualifies me as being successful. But for all the things that have worked out for me over the years, I have certainly experienced my fair share of those that haven’t, and although I’m sure fifteen-year-old Steph would be proud of the woman I’ve become and the life I’m leading, there are certainly parts of it that she never predicted and that didn’t go according to plan. There have been a lot of times in the intervening decade and a half when this hasn’t always been the case — the exact opposite, in fact — but today I can say that I am happy.

Sailing to Apo Island, The Philippines
Sailing to Apo Island, The Philippines

And today I am also thirty.

But I am not impossibly old.

Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, especially in the last six months since we set out to travel the world, it’s that nothing is impossible. I’m now twice the girl who made fixed and unwavering statements about what the future would hold, and know better than to even try. She never would have guessed I’d be greeting the “end of my life” in a hammock by a pool located in a tiny village in the wilds of Borneo.

The "wilds" of Borneo
The “wilds” of Borneo

There are worse ways to die, I suppose.

But, as proud as I am of what I’ve accomplished in the past fifteen years, I’m pretty sure the next fifteen will be even better. As it turns out, thirty is not the end, but just the beginning. I’ve still got a lot of living to do and there’s life in me yet and a whole undiscovered world out there in which to do it. As I reach the age of thirty, I’ve now set foot on 19 different countries, but I’m hoping very hard that come 31, the number of stamps in all my passports over the years will match my age.

One Piece forever!!!11!
One Piece forever!!!11!

So here’s to the past thirty years and the ones still to come; I can’t wait to see what I do with them.

The Rice Terraces
The Rice Terraces

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (40)

  1. February 3, 2013 at 7:45 am
    Feb. 3, '13

    Steph, this is such a beautiful, amazing post and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! You’re right, 30 is just the beginning, and your life is so much bigger and better than you imagined at 15. (so think about what it will look like 15 years from now, at 45). I hope you have a wonderful celebration and a fantastic 30th year.
    Kim recently posted..A Night in the Desert: A Jaisalmer Camel Tour

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:02 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Thanks, Kim! Life really is so much bigger for me now than I ever imagined, not just at 15, but even 5 years ago. The possibilities I see for myself are so exciting, and I’m honestly really looking forward to what this next decade will bring!

  2. February 3, 2013 at 9:29 am
    Feb. 3, '13

    This was a beautiful, emotive post, and a wonderful way to mark the beginning of your 30s. As someone who is just a few days away from turning 33, I can tell you that this decade is totally where it’s at. Go forth and enjoy. It’s going to be awesome, I’m sure 🙂
    Hannah recently posted..A weekend at Poopy’s house

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      I’m definitely seeing 30 as the beginning of more greatness rather than the end of a fabulous time. I had some great moments in my 20s, but I can’t wait to see where the coming years will take me.

      (Also, happy early birthday to you!)

  3. February 3, 2013 at 10:13 am
    Feb. 3, '13

    I can’t wait to see what you do, either! 🙂 Happy birthday friend. xo
    Trisha recently posted..Winter Bicycling: Rational and Enjoyable

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Thanks, Trisha! Glad we’ll be able to celebrate belatedly somewhere out in the world! I hope you had a JD4 & karaoke marathon in my honor nonetheless… 😉

  4. February 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm
    Feb. 3, '13

    What wonderful pictures! (The next-to-last is my favorite!) I remember thinking the same thing about forty – that forty would definitely be All But Dead! Well, maybe we were both unconsciously overly influenced by hearing about life spans in the Middle Ages… LOL

    Anyway, you look beautiful and happy and I hope your whole year is like that, not just your birthday! Happy Birthday and many more!
    rhapsodyinbooks recently posted..Black History Month Kid Konnection – Review of “Bad News for Outlaws” The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Tony will be so pleased that you loved that penultimate picture – I couldn’t understand why he’d want to include such a goofy photo of me in this moving tribute! 😉

  5. February 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm
    Feb. 3, '13

    Happy Birthday!!! You have accomplished amazing things, World-Traveller Dr. Steph!
    softdrink recently posted..and we all #shineon

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Thanks, softdrink! There is still much that is left to do, but I’m going to have fun conquering the globe! 😀

  6. February 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm
    Feb. 3, '13

    Oh what a beautiful, wonderful, amazing post, Steph. Happiest of birthdays to you!
    Lu recently posted..This week in…

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:07 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Thanks, Lu. I really enjoyed reading about your personal goals in January and I hope the rest of the year is great for the two of us!

  7. February 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm
    Feb. 3, '13

    I used to look forward to landmark years (1990, 2000, 2010) counting out how old I would be and try to imagine what it, and I, could possibly look like. It all seemed so impossibly far away at the time. I have learned that time undoubtably passes; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing so you better spend it doing something you love. Happy Birthday Steph and all the best in the coming years!
    Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Back In The Land Of Smiles

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:08 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Yup, the only consistent thing in life is that it keeps moving & we’ve got to keep up with it! I realize now that there’s no way I can really gauge with any accuracy what 40 or 50 will look like, since although so many of my 15-year-old dreams did come true, I never predicted I’d be traveling the world as I am now, and this is arguably one of the best things I’ve done. Life would be pretty boring without surprises, and I’m going to try to embrace them from here on out!

  8. February 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm
    Feb. 3, '13

    Happy birthday Steph!!!
    Eva recently posted..Field Notes, vol 4

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:09 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Thanks, Eva! Hope you are doing well in Texas!

  9. February 4, 2013 at 8:16 am
    Feb. 4, '13

    Happy Birthday! “I would be a doctor, I would fall in love, I would get married, I would have kids (probably two), I would be successful, I would be happy. And I then I would reach thirty and I would be impossibly old.” – story of my life at 15! You captured it well. I definitely thought I would have it all figured out by 30, but now I kind of love the not knowing.
    Jessica recently posted..Sunday Snapshot: Sunset on Kuta Beach

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Yes, the not knowing, while at times scary, can also be invigorating. I like at least feeling confident enough to believe that though I may not know what the future holds, it will probably be great and I’ll be able to meet it all with my head held high!

  10. February 4, 2013 at 9:39 am
    Feb. 4, '13

    Fantastic post and tribute to the start of the next decade! Life beyond 30 has been some of the best life, if only because I felt more comfortable with who I am. Things have definitely been harder, but I don’t just feel happy, I am happy. Feelings come and go, but being satisfied with life is something you are or you are not–it sounds like you’re on the right path. Happy birthday again!
    Carmel recently posted..Christmas Dinner & a Farewell (for now)

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:14 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      From the sounds of it, it seems as though most of the ladies I know (in real life and on the internet… that still counts!) are loving life in their 30s. This makes me incredibly happy!

      And you’re absolutely right about the transient nature of feelings. *Being* happy is the goal, and one I’m always willing to work for!

  11. February 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm
    Feb. 4, '13

    Happy birthday! I know what you mean about those expectations. We all do it, try to look forward and predict what will happen and where we’ll be. There’s no way even 3 years ago I would’ve thought I’d meet a guy through Twitter of all places and end up living in Germany. We just can’t predict where life will take us. I’m so glad you’re having a good time on your trip, and I’m sure there are many more surprises to come!
    Ali recently posted..Is “What If” Stopping You From Traveling?

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      It really is crazy how life works out, and I’m constantly amazed at how sometimes it manages to bring such unlikely and seemingly crazy things to pass. But that’s what makes life great, I suppose: just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it shows you something new!

  12. February 5, 2013 at 12:47 am
    Feb. 5, '13

    I always looked at my friends & family turning 30, and in the same way as yourself, I’d think “wow, that’s old. That’s like, a millennia from now!” and that my life would have been pretty much over by then.

    Well, as you know, I’ve still a few years left before I get as old as you ( 😛 ), but when I do I hope I can look back at what I’ve done and be as happy as you appear now.

    To another thirty!
    ANGLO/Dale recently posted..Grey’s, Green’s & Blue’s – Visiting Sun Moon Lake’s Visitors Centre

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      You may not be aged and decrepit like I am, but I’m sure that when you do reach this stage, you’ll have plenty of stories in your back pocket to make you grin. I mean, you met me, didn’t you? What more could you possibly want?!? 😉

  13. February 5, 2013 at 2:44 am
    Feb. 5, '13

    What a great post and thoughts! I’m sure there wasn’t a better and original way to celebrate your birthday, looking forward to see where you’ll be on your next one 🙂
    Franca recently posted..Painted, Stone, Neon & Chrome – Shop Signs On Our Travels

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      I’ve had some pretty awesome birthdays over the years, but this one was definitely the most exotic and certainly one I’ll never forget! And yes, it’s exciting knowing that I have no idea where I’ll turn 31!

  14. February 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm
    Feb. 5, '13

    Happy birthday Steph!! I also pictured life much differently at this age, but I think it’s better than I expected 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Million dollar toilet paper folding.

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      Oh, I know life is better than I expected… and I’m glad for it! 😀

  15. February 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm
    Feb. 5, '13

    I am late once again, but happy birthday!!

    You know, when I was 15, I used to look forward to 30, because for some reason I thought I would stop suffering at 30. I had so many psychological/depression issues, and for some reason I thought 30 was the magical age when that sort of thing WENT AWAY, when you REALLY became a grownup, and I didn’t understand that grownups did still have issues. Then I turned 30 and sort of despaired. But then six months later, they found my tooth issues, and once that was fixed, so many of my issues DID disappear. Crazy how it worked out, no? My 30s have been so much better than my 20s ever were – welcome to this awesome decade!!!
    Amanda recently posted..Hello, 2013!

    • February 5, 2013 at 7:19 pm
      Feb. 5, '13

      I looked forward to my 20s when I could be “grown up” (ha!), but 30 just seemed like the end of the line. Now I see that the 30s are where it’s at, and I’m so looking forward to the continued growth and self-acceptance they bring!

      Thank you for sharing your story, by the way. I always admire how open & honest you are. You have every reason to be proud and happy though—you really have been rocking your 30s! 😀

  16. February 6, 2013 at 2:46 am
    Feb. 6, '13

    Happy (belated) Birthday Steph! I love this post – it’s so funny how our perception of age and life changes as we get older. As you say, I’m sure the 15-year-old Steph would be really impressed with all you’ve achieved and where you’ve ending up on your 30th!
    Amy recently posted..Savings Accounts Comparison: Making the Most of our Travel Money

    • February 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm
      Feb. 7, '13

      Thanks so much, Amy! I am really hoping that when I look back at 45, I’ll be absolutely blown away with what I achieved from 30 onward!

  17. February 8, 2013 at 6:40 am
    Feb. 8, '13

    You’ve got a great view on being thirty! My girlfriend is only 27 and she has been saying the same thing you were at fifteen: my life is going to end when I turn 30. I call nonsense of course, I just don’t see what the big deal is. You’re always as young as you feel.
    Nick Rutten recently posted..Why I love weird museums: St. Petersburg edition

    • February 10, 2013 at 7:10 pm
      Feb. 10, '13

      Thanks, Nick! The more I travel, the more I realize that any boundaries I see for myself are generally ones I have imposed as well. That goes for thinking 30 is old. I can’t remember the last time I did something so liberating, and if this is just a preview of what the next decade has in store, I say bring it on!

  18. February 11, 2013 at 4:59 am
    Feb. 11, '13

    Haha judging by the comments I think everyone feels that way when they’re 15! Hell, I’m turning 24 this year and I’m freaking out about just that (my mid-twenties! noooo!). But I would have never guessed you were 30 when I met you, you’ve got a youthful spirit and wonderfully positive attitude and of course, travel keeps you young as well 🙂 Happy belated birthday, macarons are on me when you come to Paris!
    Edna recently posted..The Fairy Tale of Kish

    • February 11, 2013 at 6:49 am
      Feb. 11, '13

      For what it’s worth, you are a very mature (pronounced “matooooor”, obviously) 23-year-old; both Tony & I couldn’t believe how young you were. So I guess together we balance out! And I think we can all be glad we are no longer 15!

      Gros bisous & can’t wait to reconnect when we hit Paris!

  19. February 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm
    Feb. 12, '13

    Hi Steph, and a late Happy Birthday! That was such a beautiful post and, with my 30th birthday coming this year, too, I have started thinking back on my life too. I do remember how OLD 30 felt when I was 15, but today, I don’t feel old, at all!
    Very inspiring post. I hope you had a great time, and wish you the best for the months to come! <3
    kay @ Infinite Curio recently posted..Cover of the Day &#8211; 1 &#8211; A new feature!

    • February 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm
      Feb. 13, '13

      Thanks, Kay! Seems many of us are hitting our 30s this year… it’s a big milestone, but so far so good! 😀

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